West Virginia senator Robert Byrd has died at the age of 92. R.I.P.

Ed Morrissey writes that this is the end of an era:

his death does mark the end of an era and removes a continual flashpoint for controversy. Byrd’s history as a KKK recruiter and the man who filibustered the Civil Rights Act was routinely cited by Republicans and excused by Democrats. Ironically, he was the last member of the upper chamber from those days. Byrd also attracted controversy as one of the biggest practitioners of pork-barrel politics in Congress, which endeared him to many West Virginia voters but made him the scourge of clean-government and fiscal-responsibility activists. The media treated him with a bit of amnesia regarding the earlier portion of his career, focusing mainly on his self-described expertise on the Constitution and his work as a historian of the Senate. Only in this past year did media reports focus on his declining health and ability to serve, as Democrats finally removed Byrd as chair of Appropriations when it became clear that he wasn’t able to keep up with the task.

So, who will replace the longest serving member of Congress? Nate Silver writes that under West Virginia law, "If a vacancy were to be declared on July 3rd or later, there would not be an election to replace Byrd until 2012. If it were to occur earlier, there could potentially be an election later this year, although there might be some ambiguities arising from precisely when and how the vacancy were declared."

Democrats will want to avoid another Senate election in a state that voted for John McCain in 2010, so it seems likely that West Virginia governor Joe Manchin will hold off on declaring the vacancy until July 3. John J. Miller notes it will interesting to see how conservative Manchin's appointee is (if there is in fact an appointment), given the governor's stance on social issues:

“In West Virginia, people look to see where you stand on life, marriage, and guns,” says Joe Manchin, the newly elected governor of that state, a Democrat with conservative views on social issues. “If you’re on the wrong side of just one or two of those issues, you’ve got a problem. If you’re on the wrong side of all three, you’re mortally wounded.”

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